A sampling of what we’ve been spinning lately. Two of our most frequently-spun albums of late have already been critiqued separately: Middle Cyclone and the Dark Was The Night compilation. Another listed below, Crying Light by Antony & The Johnsons, should be considered incomplete as it — along with five other discs — has been stuck in our Suzuki’s CD player for the past two months, limiting the amount of critical attention we could devote to it. We hope to have the car fixed before the next edition of Voreplay.
But first — what has Donna Vore been listening to lately, you ask? Only the same thing as 32,118,519 other people. “Have you seen that video on the YouTube?” she asked the other night. Yes, mom. We have. And I’m sorry because I know that all you wanted in life was a son who wasn’t tone deaf. You’ll just have to settle for Susan Boyle.*
Animal Collective, Merriweather Post Pavilion. Being strangers to Animal Collective until this album, we approached Merriweather fully expecting something terrible. We don’t generally run headfirst toward anything labeled “neo-pscyhedelic experimental freak folk.” That said, we’re trying to broaden our musical horizons in 2009 (more later in the U2 review), and friends highly recommended this. Somehow it works. That doesn’t mean we love it, but we think we at least get it. Even though much of the album sounds like it was recorded in a field of crickets, there’s something we can get behind here. Ben enjoys trancing out to “In The Flowers” and “Summertime Clothes.” Still, questions linger: Why does no one in the band go by their real name? And why does the spelling of Deacon’s name change from album-to-album? We know these are questions we shouldn’t be asking if we care at all about our indie rock credibility (or what tatters of it are left once Eric Bescak comments on this post).
Antony & The Johnsons, The Crying Light. Like we said, our Suzuki ate this disc. It’s a strange, creepy album. (At least two reviews have likened it to transmissions from an alien planet.) Also, why does iTunes classify the group as “Easy Listening”? This is not easy listening. Has iTunes not actually listened to “Fistful of Love”? Antony Hegarty writes some brutal songs. (And sad ones. A writer for the L.A. Record said of “Another World,” “That might be the saddest thing I’ve ever heard. Pulls your guts up to your eyeballs.”)
Bon Iver, Blood Bank. Good little EP and a nice addendum to For Emma, Forever Ago. Justin Vernon’s dabbling in Auto-Tune on “Woods” makes us look forward to his upcoming collaboration with T-Pain.
Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Beware. The prolific Mr. Oldham delivers … we’re not sure what exactly. The word “somnambulant” comes to mind. (By which we mean even more than usual for BPB.) And that sure sounds like a yazz flute on “Afraid Ain’t Me.” We’ll do this justice the next Voreplay. But June 11 is circled on our calendar.
The Chicago Symphony Orhcestra & Fritz Reiner, “Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92: II Allegretto.” For you “Dexter” fans, you may recall the episode from season 2 when Deb falls for Special Agent Frank Lundy. (We’re thinking specifically of “That Night, A Forest Grew” [2.7].) Lundy was brought in to apprehend the Bay Harbor Butcher. Initially he comes off as aloof and arrogant, but slowly that impression yields to one of calm and discipline. We discover that he’s given to listening to classical music while he works and taking solitary lunch breaks where he can eat his cucumber sandwiches wrapped in tinfoil. Deb wants to incorporate some of that calm into her own life, so she starts by introducing herself to Chopin, one of Lundy’s favorites. She listens to it in the gym while she works out, and it’s as she’s on the treadmill running to Chopin’s Nocturne Eb major Opus 9 No. 2 that she attains a zen-like runner’s high where there is nothing else in the world but her body in motion and the music swelling to fill everything around her. Erin’s experience listening to this song (which she downloaded from iTunes after hearing it in Knowing) while running on a treadmill at the Blue Ash Y was exactly like that.
Guided By Voices, Isolation Drills. One from the vault. Ben’s favorite GBV album from their hi-fi period. Erin loathes them. Bob Pollard is a great kicker. Nothing else to say here. (Except that GBV is yet one more thing to love about Ohio.)
M. Ward, Hold Time. We feel like we should love this album rather than simply like it. We dig the up-tempo songs more than the ballads. “For Beginners” is a great opener and “To Save Me” a bouncy sing-along. “Oh Lonesome Me” is an exception to the ballad comment, possibly because Lucinda Williams duets. Lots of religious subtext here too: one song is titled “Epistemology” (really), there’s “Fisher of Men,” the life-and-death musing of “Blake’s View” and then the penultimate song, “Shangri-La,” with Ward crooning, “I cannot wait to see the expression on the face of my sweet Lord.”
The New Pornographers, Electric Version. Another from the vault, and Ben’s latest favorite running music. He failed to appreciate “Chump Change” the first time around. Ben has long resigned himself to the fact he was never cut out to be a lead singer, but listening to “Change” and the majority of the NP catalogue has convinced him he would be a great back-up vocalist. (Especially if it doesn’t involve singing actual words, just “hooo hooo/hoo hooo hooo.”) He would also like to withdraw his dismissive comment about “Hey Snow White” from the Dark is the Night review. It’s a keeper.
Peter, Bjorn and John, “Nothing to Worry About.” This is really an unsettling cover. But we’re fans of virtually any mash-up that features a children’s choir in the chorus (see Gorillaz, “Dirty Harry”; Yo La Tengo, “Nuclear War”; M.I.A., “Paper Planes”). Cincinnatians, catch PB&J this Friday at Southgate.
Robert Pattinson, “Never Think,” from The Twilight soundtrack. R-Patz just has so much soul. Did you know that’s actually him playing the piano in the movie? No stunt double needed for R-Patz’s stunning musical skills! R-Patz! R-Patz! R-Patz! Aaaahhhhhhh! (loverpatz says, “his voice is love!!!!!!!!!!”)
U2, No Line On The Horizon. This album has prompted a good deal of soul-searching in Ben. U2’s last album, How to Dismantle A Nuclear Bomb, came out in 2004. Ben was 27 then. Five years down the road, Ben is pushing 32 and hearing Horizon has forced him to confront both 1) whether or not one’s musical tastes stop evolving at a certain age (and if this is a good thing or bad thing), and 2) his own mortality. What changed in the last five years? Ben passed 30, for one. He also doesn’t listen to quite the same volume of new music that he used to. He fears that the scope of his musical tastes has reached its apogee and is now in remission, so that the remainder of his years will be spent bunkered down with previously established bands, living in fear of the new and unusual. But why now? Why this album? Two guesses: 1. The recent Top 5 Albums Readers Forum made Ben reflect on the seminal influence of U2’s Achtung Baby on his teenage self so that listening to U2 now is akin to reminiscing about a high school crush (an experience which moves from awkwardness to indulgence, nostalgia, regret, pain, and finally bitter, hard-won wisdom). 2. The release of Pearl Jam’s Deluxe/Legacy/Collector’s Edition of Ten, which Ben poured his broken heart and teenage angst into back in that hot, lusty summer of 1992. He cannot listen to Ten anymore. Doesn’t want to. It’s painful. Listening to anything by Pearl Jam now is painful. He’s not going back there.
U2 is no Pearl Jam. (Or maybe we should say Pearl Jam is no U2.) U2’s continuing, astounding relevance has made us ask, Can you fall in love with a band twice? Few groups stick around long enough to pose this question. The answer, after Horizon: Sorta. This is an underwhelming album at first, second, even third listen. But we’re coming around on it. The catchiest song at first — “Unknown Caller” — is also the clunkiest, lyrically. When you realize that the words the band is chanting in unison are a series of computer commands — “Force Quit. Move To Trash. Ohhhhhhhhh-ohhhhh-uuu-aohhhhh” (x2) — you have reason to cringe. We could also do without the fizzy throwaway single “Get On Your Boots.” But “Magnificent” is a very good song. Maybe not “Where the Streets Have No Name,” “One” or “Walk On” good, but still. We can like new (old) U2 on its own terms, regardless of the past. You can too.
Incidentally, Jerry Grit has finished cataloguing the 176 albums he bought in 2008. Jerry Grit: Single-Handedly Pulling Our Country Out Of A Recession. Congress should be giving him a bailout.
Mr. Grit, can we expect you in the greater Cincinnati/northern Kentucky area on June 20th?
* = And Shakira. Donna Vore loves her some Shakira.